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Moon – Mekong Fish Still Can’t Jump Up Ladders

By Lor Chandara, The Cambodia Daily, Cambodia

Pak Moon Dam – A "dramatic" decline in fish species has paralysed fishing communities in Northeast Thailand since the Pak Moon Dam was built in 1994, according to the leader of a Thai fishing community.
 
The Park Moon dam is on the Moon River, the largest tributary of the Mekong in Thailand.
 
Tongcharoen Sihatham, aged 55, a fisherman all his life, said that since the dam was built, the number of fish species has fallen from about 200 down to 10.
 
Fish catches have also decreased by 90 percent, said the fishermen’s leader, who was recently elected the head of the local agricultural co-operative.
 
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), which built the dam, rejected the claims. According to Mr. Subhin Panyamag, Senior Public Coordinator, the dam could have caused the decline of "fishing opportunities". However, there were economic benefits.
 
But EGAT officials admitted in a briefing to the IMMF Times that there were "bad lessons" from Pak Moon. "We would not go ahead with it again," a spokesman said. But they insisted that the dam was not a "mistake".
 
However, Mr. Sihatham said villagers living by fishing had lost their traditional lifestyle because the dam had robbed the river of fish. It had destroyed their culture and quality of life.
 
According to Mr. Sihatham, the dam has altered water flow and fish migration. The blasting of rapids destroyed the cracks and crevices under the rocks where fish sought shelter, food and oxygen. And although a fish ladder had been built, fish can’t jump up the ladder, said villagers.
 
At the start of the rainy season, from May to July, migratory fish from the Mekong River swim into the Moon to feed and spawn. Most of the fish travel seasonally between the Tonle Sap River in Cambodia, Lee Pee Waterfalls in Laos and the Mool in Thailand.
 
Kamtan Phatang, a 52-year-old fisherman with five children, said: “I used to catch 10 to 20 kilograms of fish per day before to support my family, but now I get only one kilo, and sometimes nothing.” He pulled a 100-meter long fishing net out of the water as he spoke but there were no fish in it.
 
Some of Mr. Phatang’s children have left home, traveling to other provinces and Bangkok to find new jobs, rather than living "miserably" on fishing, he said.
 
More than 2,000 families affected by the dam were compensated by the government. They were supposed to receive 90,000 baht each over three years. But villagers say they received only 30,000 baht. The rest, they say, went to a newly established co-operative, set up by a government agency.
 
The dam’s fish ladder was added to the dam after increasing concern about fish migration. But fish ladders have mainly been built for individual species. A fishery expert says it is highly unlikely that a fish ladder could accommodate all the fish species in the Moon, especially migrants from the Mekong that like a slow current.

Asked for his views on the fish ladder, one fisherman laughed. How can fish swim up and down if the ladder is steep and there is a strong current?" he asked.

In an effort to preserve fisheries, EGAT officials have released a million giant catfish fingerlings and a million shrimps into the river. They said that several million more will go into the river in the coming months. But local people said that these fish are unlike the ones that naturally migrate from the Mekong River and seek shelter under the rapids to spawn.

Pollution from riverside industry poses a direct threat to the Mekong fisheries of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Fisheries are also threatened by development. Current plans include the blasting of rapids in Yunnan, China, for tourism and navigation and other dams in less developed countries such as Cambodia.

Hundreds of small and large dams have stopped migration of fish. In some rivers, species have become extinct. Factory wastes and agricultural chemicals have caused fish disease and weakened their resistance to viruses.

 

Copyright 2009 IMMF.